Tamla Motown – a section from Rock Routes – a book by Opher Goodwin

Everything you need to know about Rock Music up until 1982.

The Tamla Motown Label.

The Tamla Motown label began in 1958 as the brainchild of Berry Gordy jnr. He was a song writer who worked on the production line of a Detroit car factory. He had great success as a song writer, while still working on the factory floor he wrote a couple of million sellers. The first was Marv Johnson’s ‘You’ve got what it takes’ (covered by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates) and the second was Jackie Wilson’s song ‘Lonely teardrops’. Berry was very ambitious and was convinced that he could do even better if he was in control of his own work. He borrowed $700 from a relative so that he could set up his own label.

He originally wanted to call the label Tammy but as there was already a label of that name he decided to change it to Tamla. He then added Motown to it to represent the importance of Detroit as a source of R&B. At that time Detroit was the main car producing town in the whole of the USA and hence the Motortown or Motown. Berry’s main idea in setting up the label was to promote the huge R&B field that existed in the city.

Their first taste of success came from the distribution of another label’s song. It was the recording of Barrett Strong’s number ‘Money’. This was subsequently covered by hundreds of Beat groups including both the Beatles and the Stones.

Their own first success was not far behind and in 1959 they had their first million seller with a number entitled ‘Shop around’ by the Miracles featuring Smokey Robinson on vocals. Following this success the label began to grow in importance and expanded rapidly. They attracted in a large number of top acts including the Temptations, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Little Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandella’s, the Four Tops and Junior Walker.

Their success lay in their distinctive production technique. They concentrated on taking the raw black R&B sound and creating a smoother, more commercial sound that was geared to appeal to a white audience. A second factor was the high standard of song writing provided by Holland, Dozier and Holland. They penned most of the Four Tops hits in the 1960s.

The coupling of this smooth production and quality song writing was to prove extremely commercial. It hit the right note with white audiences and made Tamla Motown the biggest R&B label of the 1960s.


Artist Stand out tracks
Barrett Strong Money
Marv Johnson You got what it takes
Miracles & Smokey Robinson Shop around

You really got a hold on me

I second that emotion

Tracks of my tears

Tears of a clown

Marvin Gaye Hitch hike

Can I get a witness

How sweet it is to be loved by you

Four Tops Baby I need your loving

I can’t help myself (sugar pie honeybunch)

Reach out I’ll be there


Walk away Renee

Standing in the shadow of love

Little Stevie Wonder Fingertips Pt 1 & Pt 2

Uptight (everything’s alright)

Blowin’ in the wind

I was made to love her

Temptations My girl

Ain’t too proud to beg

Get ready

Supremes Baby love

Where did our love go?

Come see about me

Stop! In the name of love

Martha & the Vandellas Dancing in the street

Jimmy Mack

(Love is like a) Heatwave

Nowhere to run to

Junior Walker Shotgun

How sweet it is to be loved by you

Everything you ever wanted to know about Rock Music!

If you would like to purchase this book in either digital or paperback it is available on Amazon.

In the UK:


In the USA :

Opher Goodwin

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